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TOP > What’s New > Sugawara, Seagulls foil Frontiers in Pearl Bowl thriller

What’s New

Sugawara, Seagulls foil Frontiers in Pearl Bowl thriller


Obic quarterback Shun Sugawara celebrates after scoring the winning touchdown in the second tiebreaker.

TOKYO (June 23)—Shun Sugawara led a miracle comeback in regulation time, then followed it up by scoring on an 8-yard run in the second tiebreaker to lift the Obic Seagulls to a dramatic 37-34 victory over the Fujitsu Frontiers in the Pearl Bowl final on Monday night at Tokyo Dome.


Sugawara threw his third touchdown pass of the night, a 19-yarder to Takuya Furutani, on the final play of the game to cap an 11-play, 81-yard drive in the last 2:03 of regulation and tie the score at 28-28.


Adding to the drama before the crowd of 16,869, Obic could have won the game outright, but kicker Yosuke Kaneoya hit the upright on the extra point for the second time in the game—after Obic was assessed a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebrations of the touchdown—sending the game to the tiebreaker.


“As a team, we pulled it out strictly on experience,” veteran Obic defensive end Kevin Jackson said. “We’ve been in this situation so many times over the last few years. We didn’t panic, just kind of got it done. Sugawara always finds a way to make it happen. The guy is amazing.”


In the first tiebreaker, the Fujitsu defense stopped Obic three times at the 1-yard line, and the Seagulls had to settle for Kaneoya’s 18-yard field goal. Fujitsu made little headway in its first possession and tied the game on Hidetetsu Nishimura’s 39-yard field goal.


Fujitsu went first in the second tiebreaker and again failed to gain a first down, settling for a 43-yard field goal by Nishimura. Obic moved to the 8-yard line in three plays, then Sugawara took it in himself on a quarterback draw, diving at the goal line and flipping over into the end zone.


Noriaki Kinoshita caught eight passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard bomb from Sugawara in the first quarter, to earn the MVP award as Obic won its fifth Pearl Bowl title, dating back to its days as Recruit, and first since 2012.


It was just the second time the championship game was decided in a tiebreaker—the Seagulls were on the losing end in the other, falling 20-19 to the Kajima Deers in 2002.


Fujitsu, which has now lost in the final for the third straight year, led 14-9 at halftime and 21-15 going into the fourth quarter. After Sugawara put Obic ahead with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Ryoma Hagiyama early in the fourth quarter, Fujitsu regained the lead on Colby Cameron’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Sei Kyo with 6:09 left in the game.


“It lived up to the hype,” Cameron, playing his fourth game for the Frontiers, said of the rematch of last December’s Japan X Bowl, won 24-16 by Obic for its fourth straight X-League championship. “Of course we wanted to win. The defense played great. The offense, we have a lot of work to do.”


Cameron, under pressure all night and still working on the timing with his receivers, completed 17 of 32 passes for 172 yards and one touchdown, with one interception. To be fair, many of the incompletions were dropped by his receivers. The timing issue was particularly apparent during the tiebreakers, when he failed to complete all four passes he threw.


“I think his performance was not perfect,” Obic head coach Makoto Ohashi said. “He’s still making adjustments for Japanese football. Today there were some important dropped balls. Maybe he can adjust in the fall season, and he’ll be more dangerous.”


Gino Gordon rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries for Fujitsu, while defensive back Yuki Ishii returned an interception of a Manabu Tatsumura pass 15 yards for a touchdown.


“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Gordon, who gave Fujitsu its first score with a dazzling 35-yard touchdown run in which broke several tackles and brutally plowed over a defensive back. “I’m glad we stepped up to the challenge. It would have been nice to get the victory.”


Sugawara finished 17 of 26 for 271 yards with an interception.


Obic’s other touchdown came when rookie Takushiro Hata connected with Kinoshita on a 41-yard pass in the third quarter. Kaneoya, who also hit the upright on the extra point after Obic’s first touchdown, kicked a 20-yard field goal on the final play of the first quarter to give Obic a 9-7 lead.


The game lived up its billing as a high-intensity battle, but it was certainly not mistake-free. Obic had 524 total yards, but was also flagged for 114 yards in penalties. “We still have a lot of weak points. We beat ourselves, penalty-wise and with some mistakes,” Ohashi said.


Fujitsu failed to take advantage of one of Obic’s bigger mistakes. The Frontiers had a chance to increase its lead before halftime when a bad snap went over rookie Obic punter Takeshi Nagao’s head and he was tackled deep in Seagulls territory.


But the Frontiers were  ‘Wow, we actually used it,’ was how I felt.

flagged for a facemask on the tackle, so instead of Fujitsu having the ball at the Obic 15, the Seagulls got to keep their drive going. Fortunately for Fujitsu, it ended with Nagao, who also place kicks, missing a 46-yard field goal attempt.


Late in the game as Fujitsu was trying to run out the clock in the final four minutes, Obic linebacker B.J. Beatty was controversially ejected from the game after being penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit which, instead of leaving the Frontiers facing a 4th-and-3, gave them a first down at the 50. But the Obic defense, fired up by the call, dug in and stopped the Frontiers, giving Sugawara and the offense the ball back with just over two minutes to go.


Beatty had blocked a Nishimura field goal attempt in the first quarter and had one of Obic’s three sacks.


“As a team, we didn’t play well today,” said Jackson, who also had a sack and recovered a fumble. “I think offensively and defensively, I don’t think anyone is really satisfied with how we played today. We have a lot of stuff to clean up.”


For Fujitsu, the bitterness of the loss will only serve as further incentive for the fall season. The closeness of the score tells the Frontiers they and the Seagulls are not so far apart.


“They’re not Superman, they’re not anything special,” said Cameron, a former star at Louisiana Tech. “They’s just a good football team, and what I saw tonight is they’re coached extremely well. On offense and defense. You can tell by the play calling that they do a really good job of setting their plays up to be successful.


“I’m not downplaying their players at all, either. The players did a good job on both sides of the ball. Physical on defense and pretty athletic on offense. A good team, but I look forward to playing them again.”


—Ken Marantz for the X-League


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